Delali Dzirasa ’04, computer engineering
With two Retriever brothers before him, UMBC was the last place Delali Dzirasa wanted to be during college. But it turned out to be a key part of his future as president and founder of Fearless Solutions, a shining star in Baltimore’s software scene, not to mention the place where he met his wife, an officer in their company.
“There’s always going to be a connection between me, Fearless, and UMBC. UMBC’s part of the story, right?” says Dzirasa.
Earlier this year, Fearless was named Maryland Minority-Owned Small Business of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration, and last year took home the Design/Dev Firm of the Year prize at Baltimore Innovation Week.
Since 2009, Fearless has taken on a diverse array of high-profile work, including everything from projects that support national security, to creating an online platform for middle school students in New York to use to track oyster habits, to building a dashboard for Baltimore City’s health department to view and track death certificates from across the city.
For Dzirasa, the common thread is using technology to change the planet. He says his employees feel likewise, indicating to him that “‘I want to feed my family but I want to do something that matters.’ That’s good, that’s part of our DNA, and it’s part of the DNA of the people that are here.”
UMBC is contributing to that team, with alumni making up 35% of the staff. Dzirasa’s wife, Letitia Dzirasa ’03, biological sciences, is among them. She is the company’s health innovation officer.
Dzirasa’s copious connections with UMBC might have come as a surprise to him two decades ago, when the Silver Spring native had to be “muscled” into applying by his mom. He had no initial desire to follow in his two older (and successful) brothers’ footsteps as UMBC students. But it didn’t take long for him to chart his own path as he advanced in his degree in computer engineering.
“I was always interested early on in really three things: tech, business, and people. I had no idea how all this would come together,” he says.
Dzirasa started building his business acumen early on by taking “every job or business known to man,” including dog walking, car washing, and even starting a barbershop in his basement. UMBC let him hone his business skills further. “I had a lot of really good opportunities while at UMBC, not just from a technical background, but also the entrepreneurship program opened a lot of doors for me,” he says.
After graduation in 2004, UMBC’s President Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, gave him his first job connection through alumnus Rob Baruch ’89, computer science. Five years later, Dzirasa took the leap of starting his own company, housing his first office in the incubator at bwtech@umbc Business Park.
Today Fearless’ downtown Baltimore office is full of people working hard for his vision, some at treadmill desks, and many wearing the purple of the company brand. For anyone who wants to join their ranks or simply succeed in their business goals, Dzirasa says “you’ve got to have some sort of ‘why’ that drives you. Absolute pun intended, you’ve got to be fearless.”
Dzirasa’s fearlessness has earned him a company that continues to quickly grow and change, a process he says is not unlike the childhood of his sons (ages 15 years and 6 months).
“There’s things you love about every stage and there’s things you hate about every stage, but you love to watch them grow,” he says.
— Karen Stysley